Your imagination is the limit

In the competitive market we live in today, every business should be looking for new ways to maintain and grow their business. It helps if new projects are aligned with your core business and, even better, if they can be targeted at an existing customer base. Retaining or growing business with an existing customer is always much easier and more successful than entering completely new markets.

The ChromaLuxe and Unisub range of products provide one great way of doing this; and one with nice margins and ease of use.

Universal Woods produce ChromaLuxe which is a range of dye sublimation coated panels. They are available on aluminium sheets, MDF panels and hardboard. Images, photos and graphics can be easily transferred to the panels. The result is super high quality images on a very durable tough surface which is scratch, fire and moisture resistant.

Unisub is essentially a very similar product, also from Universal Woods, but aimed firmly at the gift market with items such as clocks, trays, plaques, coasters and table mats, key rings and luggage tags. Basically smaller sizes that only need an A4 or A3 printer and similar sized heat press.

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Production of both ChromaLuxe and Unisub products requires a dye sublimation printer (with inks and paper, of course) and a flat bed heat press. A basic system capable of printing up to A3 will leave change from €2,000. A full size system capable of printing up to 1.2m x 2.4m can cost over €50,000. But a Midi sized system capable of printing up to 75x110cm will cost a more modest €15,000. Such a system is great for printing large panels but can also produce tiny items like dog tags! Remember that because it is a dye sublimation process, the printer and press can also be used for printing on textiles. With typical sales pricing the Return on Investment can often be only a few months with a very modest print production of 3 or 4 prints per week.

But what is the market for these products? Well, we always say that “your imagination is the limit”. Photo prints is the obvious and main use, but we now see more and more creative adaptations. One of our largest clients is making only table tops, predominantly for the café and bar market – it’s a great promotional tool. Another huge client specializes in whiteboard for hospitals, schools and corporate use. Whiteboard pens can be used on ALL our products without creating any damage. Should someone accidentally use a permanent marker (we’ve all seen it happen!) it can be quickly cleaFeatured imagened off with some acetone or similar cleaning product. Even better, it does not leave any shadow mark.

Other potential uses are Indoor signage – you could use our clear aluminium as an alternative to anodized plates. Other uses are for Serial number plates for equipment, machinery plates, Advertising A-boards etc.

So now look at your customer base and think about what could be done. Some great examples – Spas, hotels, golf clubs (tee off boards, membership bag tags), sports clubs, football clubs (famous clubs could have a range of gift items), corporate wall décor and signage, manufacturing (safety panels). Museums love the product as it can be touched by kids and cleaned easily.

The list is endless.

Let’s have a quick look at the photo market. For many years all our photos were taken on film and then produced as prints using a chemical process. As we know digital photography has now replaced film almost totally. But photo prints from our digital images made with photo chemicals are still very popular and provide a very high quality result. Photo labs offering online prints at 10×15 cm and 13×18 cm sizes still do huge business. At the high end, large format prints are often made with the chemical process and then mounted on Dibond or behind acrylic.

However, at the same time over the last 15 years, we see a lot of inkjet printing onto art papers, canvas, banners etc. The quality has improved dramatically over the years, but in terms of quality photo chemical based papers are still the benchmark.

Where does dye-sublimation fit into this? First of all do not get confused with those little dye-sub printers used in many photo kiosks that produce 10×15 cm prints using RGB/CMY coloured films. Real Dye-sublimation is the process where prints are made onto a paper using special sublimation inks. The ink is then transferred to a coated material in aFeatured image heat press using high pressure and high heat. The substrate can be a textile or a hard substrate like ChromaLuxe and Unisub. Hard substrates include aluminium, MDF, hardboard and FRP.

So how does a ChromaLuxe print compare with our benchmark of silver based photo paper going through a chemical process. In terms of colour gamut (the range of colours that can be printed), a ChromaLuxe print very closely matches the photo paper and is much better than prints from an inkjet flatbed printer. As the inks are infused into a multi-layer coating on the ChromaLuxe, there is an impression of 3 dimensions and the colours truly ‘pop’. But a very big advantage is that the surface is incredibly durable – tough and long lasting. Firstly, with a surface rather like glass, it is extremely scratch resistant unlike papers and it can even be cleaned with powerful industrial cleaners. Secondly, testing by the Rochester Institute of Technology has shown that it has over twice the print life of the very best photo paper when exposed to Xenon Arc light fade tests.

So as I said earlier, your imagination is the limit! With sublimation you can open up new profitable markets which can help you compete and grow a profitable business in these difficult times.

Featured imageCharles Henniker-Heaton has over 30 years experience in the imaging industry, first at Durst and then at Fujifilm as a senior manager involved in retail photo, chemicals and since 2006 as European Marketing Manager for large format printing. He joined ChromaLuxe EMEA in 2014 in charge of European Business Development for large format.


Art Prints and Limited Editions

Back in April I wrote about “Photography or Art” where I explored when photography became art. I find myself now looking at upcoming fairs like The Accessible Art Fair in Brussels and The Affordable Art Fair which now operates in 11 countries. Due to the high quality ChromaLuxe output of our local Brussels lab, Labo JJ Micheli, we have seen increasing use of ChromaLuxe at the Brussels exhibitions in preference to Diasec prints.

These two fairs do exactly what they say and concentrate on art that is affordable and accessible, typically with maximum prices limited to approx. €5000 – €6000 but with many works at very ‘democratic’ prices of under €100. Artists and photographers are encouraged and invited to exhibit and sell direct to the market.

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Photographs and Photo-Art are often exhibited as prints on fine art paper or using high-end acrylic Diasec prints. ChromaLuxe offers a very valid alternative with its punchy colours and almost 3 dimensional look. Even with the gloss version, images reflect better than under acrylic or behind glass.

A lot of the artworks presented are offered as limited edition prints as these fit well in the price range. But what is a limited edition? There has been a lot of discussion around this and there is no legal definition – it is basically left to the ethics and responsibility of the individual artist. In the days when prints were often made by screen printing or from woodcuts, lithographic stones etc, the edition would be limited by the process being used (which would often wear out) and by destruction of the original plates/medium. With digital images, the rules have changed as there is generally no limit to the print quantity or the size.

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A limited edition should come from an original artist’s work and not from a reproduction of let’s say a famous Master’s work – for example Manet’s paintings reproduced as posters. An edition should normally be between 10 and 150 images plus perhaps a couple of AP (Artist Proofs) which are made to control the consistency and quality of the other prints. Prints should be signed and numbered showing the print number and the total quantity of the edition – 45/120 for example. Each print should also have a unique Certificate of Authenticity explaining the medium, the number of prints in the edition, link to the specific print and artist’s signature. With ChromaLuxe prints, artist’s signatures and print numbers can be added digitally on the face of the image, printed on the rear or engraved – the important part is to link the print to the CoA.

What about a second limited edition of the same image but at a different size and on a different media – perhaps paper prints of 40x50cm and canvas prints of 1mx1m? This is a difficult one and practised by many artists/photographers. It becomes a question of their integrity and position in the market and their honesty with the clients as it does have an effect on the value of their work. What I did see recently which is extremely dubious was a second edition of the same image on the same material at the same size – the only difference was the addition of one person into the image!

Finally – hand embellishment. This is something I personally like. A good example would be a limited edition of 10 prints where the artist has added something to each image by hand. This might, for example, be the addition of some gold or pearlescent paint in part of the image that cannot be reproduced digitally. The edition is limited but each image is also unique. Nice idea.

Featured imageCharles Henniker-Heaton has over 30 years experience in the imaging industry, first at Durst and then at Fujifilm as a senior manager involved in retail photo, chemicals and since 2006 as European Marketing Manager for large format printing. He joined ChromaLuxe EMEA in 2014 in charge of European Business Development for large format.

True Colours?

Working with photographers and printers I get involved in a lot of discussions about colour.

The first thing I will ask anyone is if they are working with a calibrated and profiled monitor. Many, even some professional photographers, are not. Do you work with raw files, I ask? ‘Oh yes!’ comes the reply. Well, if you work with raw files and do not have a calibrated and profiled screen, you are frankly wasting your time. Every correction you make is based on what you see on your screen. If the screen is wrong, the resulting file will have the wrong colours.

The best way of explaining this is to ask if they have visited a television showroom. If you have, you will know that every screen in the showroom will display different colours – see the photo. It’s Featured imagethe same with monitors – they are all different. Depending on the type of monitor, you will have different controls and settings, but once it is calibrated and profiled you will see a close rendering of the correct colours. If someone else also has a calibrated and profiled monitor they will see almost exactly the same colours. EIZO and NEC are probably the two most commonly used professional monitors. If you cannot afford a top end monitor like these, profiling will still bring you much much closer to the correct colours. Profiling is done to an international standard set by the CIE.

I have on my desk a MacBook Pro (generally considered to produce great colours) and a large monitor. The large monitor is fully profiled and is the one I use for all colour critical work. If I drag an image in Photoshop from the large screen to the MacBook, the colours shift significantly. If I run a slideshow on the MacBook it looks great but the colours are not technically right!

Why does all this matter? Well, it really matters when you start printing. Here we have other factors coming in like the type of printer, the inks and the paper used. But if we also profile these combinations, we can produce prints in two different locations on the same type of printer using the same paper and inks with almost identical colour. We can also get very close colours on different papers or media, only restricted by the available colour gamut of that paper/ink combination. Without using ICC colour profiles this would simply be impossible. Don’t forget for optimal viewing of prints you should use daylight (5000K).

Of course the next question is, do we all see colour in the same way? The vast majority of us do. The colour blind will not and those with synesthesia may not. I remember holding a pink card against a grey filing cabinet and someone with colour blindness saying they were identical, just one was lighter. For colour blindness there is the Ishihara test. For those whose job involves working with colour, you should try the X-Rite Colour Test and hope to achieve a perfect score or close.

Recently we had the famous blue and black dress problem. Different people viewing the same image on the same screen saw it in different ways. Some as blue and black and some as gold and white. The image went viral around the world with hundreds of theories. Psychologists who study colour had many views. Our own industry cFeatured imageolour management specialists also had a range of explanations. The image was badly exposed when taken and in unusual lighting which did not help. The original shop dress is blue and black. Personally I see it as blue and black. For me the black areas are somewhat brownish but my perception of the image puts this down to the lighting and my brain reviews the information to conclude that it is black. If we open the file in Photoshop and measure the colours, be it in RGB, CMYK or Lab, the measurements will show the colours to be in the dark and blue parts of the spectrum.

Finally, colour is also important if we are posting images on the web or using them in MS Office programs or similar. Our responsibility is to get the colours as close as possible to the ‘correct’ colour when we post an image or use it in a software. Sadly we cannot control where or how the image is viewed or how it might be printed, but at least we have given the world the chance to view an image in the way that we intend.

Featured imageCharles Henniker-Heaton has over 30 years experience in the imaging industry, first at Durst and then at Fujifilm as a senior manager involved in retail photo, chemicals and since 2006 as European Marketing Manager for large format printing. He joined ChromaLuxe EMEA in 2014 in charge of European Business Development for large format.

Brussels – A Love Story

Bruxelles, or Brussels, grew up from a small village called originally Broeck-zele. Literally translated this is a “Village on a brook”. A brook being a small river. Now it is a large city which is the capital of Europe. A new photo exh

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ibition celebrates this with a show entitled Brussels – A Love Story. The theme is a series of photographs taken by people living in Brussels who love their chosen home city.

My local camera club where I live in Brussels is called ‘Viewfinders’. It’s been running for many years. In a cosmopolitan city like Brussels we have over 120 members from at least 12 different countries, possibly more. The club meets monthly with well known guest speakers, photo challenges and competitions, and portfolio reviews.

When the members saw some sample prints, the super gloss and how robust they were, it became a simple decision to use ChromaLuxe for the exhibition.

Every other year we organize an annual exhibition of member’s work and this year it is taking place during the whole of May in the famous Halles St Gery in the city centre – this was an old fruit and vegetable market that has now been converted to a bar and restaurant with a gallery in the vaults.

Featured image20 members will be exhibiting 40 prints that thisyear, for the first time, will all be printed on ChromaLuxe. The prints have been produced at top Belgian professional lab, Labo JJ Micheli.

In the past the prints have been made on photo or inkjet paper and then either framed or mounted on Forex. Although the prints were low cost, the extra cost of mounting and framing was substantial. Hanging the prints was also a problem as we had to rely on a wire suspension system that restricted the weight of the frames. This special building does not allow any nails or screws to be hammered into the wall.

When the members saw some sample pFeatured imagerints, the super gloss and how robust they were, it became a simple decision to use ChromaLuxe for the exhibition. Now the exhibition is up and started, they were really impressed by the overall consistency an quality of the images. At the end of the show, they can be safely taken away to display at home and many will probably be sold and find new homes!

Most readers pFeatured imagerobably won’t have the chance to visit the exhibition unless they happen to be visiting Brussels during May – but if you can I strongly recommend it. 40 stunning images on the theme of why I love Brussels – you will be amazed.

The ‘vernissage’ on 8th May attracted over 200 visitors with a superb response to the ChromaLuxe prints. The spot lighting in the vaults really made the prints ‘pop”!

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Featured imageCharles Henniker-Heaton has over 30 years experience in the imaging industry, first at Durst and then at Fujifilm as a senior manager involved in retail photo, chemicals and since 2006 as European Marketing Manager for large format printing. He joined ChromaLuxe EMEA in 2014 in charge of European Business Development for large format.

Photography or Art?

Is photography art? This is a hot discussion in many online forums and has been a subject of debate since photography was invented. There are many iconic photographs and beautiful studies of the human form, landscapes, cityscapes and abstract images that are without doubt of high artistic value. There is also the question of when does a photograph become a ‘painting’? My personal view is when it is manipulated so far in Photoshop or similar software that it ceasesFeatured image to look like a photo and looks more like a painting. However, would you agree? Fine Art images can come from several sources:

  • An original photograph without manipulation
  • A photograph that has been manipulated into an artistic image
  • Digital art created/drawn entirely in the computer
  • Original paintings or drawings

To make a print, the image needs to be digital. No problem for the first three. For original art works there are companies that provide some really top class digitization of paintings and drawings by highly specialist photography or by high end scanning. Cruse scanners can scan originals up to 2 m x 3 m. The results are brilliant – the lighting can either be adjusted to give a flat image and colours, or to show every brushstroke, so much so that, when they are printed, people touch the print to feel the brush stroke!  Digitising and printing original artwork opens up whole new markets and new revenue streams for artists. Limited edition prints allow them to sell to clients who may not be able to afford an original. Sometimes artists will embellish a printed image, for exaFeatured imagemple by addition of pearlescent or metallic paint, and add further to its value as a semi-original! The UK based Fine Art Trade Guild offers guidance on giclee printing, print life, framing and also guidelines on publishing limited editions. We are pleased to see more and more photographers and artists choosing ChromaLuxe HD Metal aluminium panels for exhibiting their work in high end galleries and fine art shows. We also saw print prices ranging from €1000 – €6000 at the recent Affordable Art Fair and Accessible Art Fair. Photograph or Art? – In the end the choice is yours; we all see images in different ways and we decide what we like or do not like, whatever the critics might say.

Some of the artists and photographers using ChromaLuxe can be found in the Gallery section of our web site at

This selection is being added to on a regular basis.

For example:

Charline Lancel – whose op-art style images are created entirely in Photoshop.

Alain Trellu – who takes amazing photos of his native Brussels and then adds a new dimension.

Colin Prior – Scottish photographer who specializes in amazing panoramas and has long been a respected figure in the fine art market.

Benoit Pay – human studies reflected in marble.

Nic Gaunt – English photographer based in Hong Kong – famous for his unusual style.

Featured imageCharles Henniker-Heaton has over 30 years experience in the imaging industry, first at Durst and then at Fujifilm as a senior manager involved in retail photo, chemicals and since 2006 as European Marketing Manager for large format printing. He joined ChromaLuxe EMEA in 2014 in charge of European Business Development for large format.

Do it yourself! Return on Investment (ROI) for Large Format ChromaLuxe

One interesting task that I recently undertook was preparing a comprehensive MS Excel sheet which would allow our clients to calculate the expected ROI time and Profit & Loss for their investment in a large format ChromaLuxe system. You start with the basics like hardware investment cost and compare it with material costs and selling prices. But that is just the start, there are many other factors to take into account.

The good news is that, in the end, you can only come to the conclusion that even a modest volume of work can generate some interesting profits.

Hardware and Software Investment

First you have to look at the hardware investment cost of a printer and heat press. The heat press is the largest cost element and will control the maximum size that you can print. It also needs to be top quality with very even heating and pressure. Some of the presses designed for textile simply do not meet this standard. Prices for a good larger format prFeatured imageess vary from €6.000 to €45.000 depending on the size. €30.000 will provide a good press, delivered and installed, for printing 1.1m x 1.75m plates.

A 44inch (112cm) printer from Epson will cost around €5.000 including a RIP software, depending on local offers. The only other hardware cost may be some colour management hardware and software, if you don’t already have it, at about €2.000. A percentage should also be included for maintenance costs.

When we look at the investment costs, whilst they may seem quite high at first, they are much lower than costs associated with purchase of UV printers, CNC routers and wet chemical silver halide print processes. Given the high gross profit margins available, this is an excellent investment.

Consumable Costs

The next stage involves looking at the cost of the ChromaLuxe plates – easily calculated from our price list, less any applicable discount. In a ROI, I look for the total square metres per week and I have created a mix of standard product sizes in order to calculate this.

Paper and Ink – for printing hard metal substrates, this is a cost but not a high percentage of the total cost. We are looking at between €3.00 and €5.00 per square metre depending on the printer, ink used and most importantly the image. As with all inkjet printing, an image with a lot of white background will use much less ink than a full colour image. WFeatured imagee use a medium-high level image for our estimates.

Sales Prices

Next is your sales price. This has to reflect market prices, best assessed by checking competitors’ web sites! But also take into account your service level – do you offer a high end professional service with test prints, colour management, proofing etc? The prices that should be used here are without VAT tax.

Other factors to consider

Substrate, paper and ink wastage. If you print on a 112cm wide roll but the image is only 30x40cm, there is obviously a lot of waste. Print head cleaning cycles also use ink.

Then there is the electricity cost for the heat press which can be substantial if it is on all day but only limited production is done. Set this up efficiently.

Labour costs are another aspect. One of the great advantages of sublimating prints is the production process which, once a good workflow is set up, is very easy, very fast and very reliable. Calculating labour costs means making some accurate assumptions on print estimates.

But when you look at the ROI, all these extra items have less effect on the total costs than the investmeFeatured imagent cost and main consumable costs.

We offer our clients the opportunity to use our Excel ROI sheet that comes with full instructions. However, we recommend to complete it together so that each item can be confirmed and discussed if necessary. This is a major investment and it is important to be accurate.

One of the great things about owning a sublimation system and heat press, is the opportunities it opens up to create other products – we often say that your imagination is your limit! Gift items, kitchen interiors, tables, whiteboard products, textiles are all items that can be produced with the same equipment.

The Final Result

Our Excel sheet allows you to look at the expected ROI time. You can also choose the write down period.

A second step allows you to enter your own estimated weekly print run with a combination of sizes and to looFeatured imagek at the full P&L calculations. Contribution to building and other overheads can be added.

Sublimation carries a healthy gross profit which at the end of the day can give a fast ROI from just a few prints per week.

Contact us to find out more!

Featured imageCharles Henniker-Heaton has over 30 years experience in the imaging industry, first at Durst and then at Fujifilm as a senior manager involved in retail photo, chemicals and since 2006 as European Marketing Manager for large format printing. He joined ChromaLuxe EMEA in 2014 in charge of European Business Development for large format.

Abracadabra – the magic of sublimation!

Anyone who worked in a darkroom remembers how they looked at their 35mm negative, printed it with their enlarger and then placed it in the chemicals. The image slowly appeared in the red light, but until it was washed and dried and viewed in daylight, you didn’t know exactly how it would look.

It’s a little bit similar with sublimation. You have to print it onto a special paper using a Ricoh (small format) or Epson (large format) printer using sublimation inks. Then you attach the print to the ChromaLuxe metal panel and place it in the heat press. A couple of minutes later, you take it out and you have a perfect color image on the metal plate.

But when you make your first print and you look at the colors on the paper, it looks truly terrible. It is as if the colors are all washed out, the blacks are grey, there is no density to the colors and no apparent tonality. How can this turn into a stunning ChromaLuxe print?

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Well, that is the magic of sublimation!

Without wishing to get too technical, when you place the paper and coated aluminium plate into the heat press at approx. 200oC, the inks change directly from a solid state to a gaseous state, without passing the expected liquid phase that occurs with most chemicals. The dyes in their gaseous form are infused into the seven layer coating on the ChromaLuxe panels where the full color gamut is created. Remove from the press, take off the paper and there is the ChromaLuxe print in all its colorful glory. The color gamut range is very similar to the top silver halide prints and much better than UV direct printing. The layers in the coating also help generate an almost 3D look.

At last year’s Photokina expo, we were making small samples on the stand. Everybody was so amazed by the difference between the paper print and the final result, I got into the habit of going ‘abracadabra’ as I peeled off the paper. A colleague then dropped the plate onto the floor and jumped on it to demonstrate how tough the coating is against scratches etc.

One last thing. When I started sublimation printing I wondered how we could possibly color manage this weird print with our calibration units. Of course, you don’t. You print the test chart onto the paper, sublimate it onto the aluminium and then read the aluminium print – obvious really!

Featured imageCharles Henniker-Heaton has over 30 years experience in the imaging industry, first at Durst and then at Fujifilm as a senior manager involved in retail photo, chemicals and since 2006 as European Marketing Manager for large format printing. He joined ChromaLuxe EMEA in 2014 in charge of European Business Development for large format.